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Bobseine: Football dangerous, damaging

February 4, 2016
By Greg Fox ( , Westfield Republican

The Fredonia Central School District's football program may have a future if board of education members take action at their Feb. 9 meeting, but after an impassioned soliloquy by the school board president, Hillbilly football will not continue with unanimous support.

During the Jan. 26 board meeting, Superintendent Paul DiFonzo confirmed the currently combined Westfield-Brocton Wolverines reached out to Fredonia to see if the two teams could combine. DiFonzo noted Westfield-Brocton - like Fredonia - is experiencing the same difficulty in sustaining its program with a low participation outlook.

"The other alternative, really, if we don't decide to combine is to end the football program," he remarked. "I know there are a number of questions, but it really boils down to do we want to continue to offer football to our students?"

Article Photos

Photo by Greg Fox
Fredonia School Board President Michael Bobseine, right, speaks heatedly about evidence that football is a dangerous and damaging sport during a Jan. 26 board meeting. Also pictured is board member Daniel Ihasz.

Athletic Director Scot Stutzman explained a combined program could translate to a team of 46 varsity players and a team of 54 junior varsity players, based on the latest projections, though Stutzman cautioned signups do not equate to committed players. Those teams fuse together Westfield-Brocton's 28 varsity and 18 JV signups and Fredonia's 18 varsity and 36 JV signups.

Looking strictly at Fredonia's varsity numbers, Stutzman said Fredonia should have 22 players at the bare minimum to continue solo. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association sports standards stipulate a minimum of 16 players to field a team.

Stutzman said he believes Fredonia can cross the minimum threshold, but he pegged a more reasonable number at around 35, closer to 40.

"Twenty-two is not a very comfortable number when you think of offense, defense, special teams and potential injuries, which this year, our last game is another example of why we couldn't move forward," he added. "We just didn't have the players, it wasn't safe and we pulled up a lot of the JV ... (and) pulling up JV players can be very risky because there's just a different level of intensity within the game."

Stutzman gave board members a logistics sheet which identifies considerations before putting a combined program in place.

"We have the numbers, we've taken the time to look over the logistics and after meeting with the other ADs and the superintendent, it is feasible to do this," he asserted. "Both other districts were very fair when we came to the table and everybody said, 'Let's make it work for the benefit of the kids.'"

A combined program would see Fredonia stay in the same class of Section 6, while Westfield-Brocton will move up, Stutzman said.

DiFonzo told the board he needs a decision on the merger by the next meeting, since Section 6 officials are currently solidifying the schedule for games.

"I apologize for the short timeframe, but it's not like we've had a lot of time to work on this issue," he added. "I don't want to get our district into a situation where we're on a schedule across Section 6 and then all of the sudden we have to forfeit our games. That's not fair to the other teams."

With his voice raised and shaky at times, Board President Michael Bobseine - who played football in high school and college - spoke to what he called the elephant in the room, namely the irrefutable evidence that football is a dangerous and damaging sport.

"When we talk about injuries ... it's not just the concussions," he stressed. "If parents want their kids to play, then I say go for it, that's great. If you want your kids to play football, you want to risk that for your children, you can make that decision. Here's our problem ... we can never separate the liability that we have for a student. A parent cannot sign away the indemnity of their child. Now what you (the parent) are doing though is you're asking our school district and our taxpayers to essentially protect you and your child, not physically, but fiscally, financially. We are going to protect you from making what I've come to believe is a terrible decision.

"I've got a bigger responsibility here. I've got a responsibility to all of our students and to those students who are playing football. It's not just the parent's decision anymore, but it's our decision. We're the ones deciding that we're going to offer this program and kind of the research be darned."

He at one point referenced the late Damon Janes, a junior at Brocton Central School who died in 2013 after suffering a severe head injury during a varsity football game. He then indirectly criticized how Brocton continued on with a football program.

"I say to myself, 'That poor kid in Brocton. He's dead.' He's dead, he was killed on a football field; they're continuing a football program," he commented. "What of that do I understand? None of that. I don't have a safe place to put that."

Bobseine also bemoaned the fact that sports programs can be merged, but most school district mergers fail.

Board members Tom Hawk and Daniel Ihasz applauded Bobseine for standing up for what he believes in. Hawk noted he would prefer to see what the community thinks before he makes up his mind. Ihasz stated he might have a difference in opinion to some of what Bobseine said, but he agreed it is a shame non-mandated programs such as sports can combine so easily, while schools - which have a primary focus of educating - cannot merge so easily.



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